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Released Iranian student leader vows to continue freedom fight

September 9, 2000, TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The leader of a pro-democracy student group jailed for his outspoken criticism of government hard-liners was released this week but said Saturday he would keep fighting for political freedoms.

"Prison will never discourage me or other students from seeking justice and freedom. I will not give up and will continue fighting for democracy even if I'm jailed for life," said Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, who was released Wednesday.

Tabarzadi, who has been imprisoned three times in the past three years, was last jailed in June for a gathering at Tehran University where he led the crowd in chanting anti-government slogans. He did not stand trial and said he was not given a reason for his release.

Tabarzadi, 40, heads the Islamic Students Association, which seeks faster and more far-reaching democratic reforms in Iran than those initiated by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

Since his landslide election in 1997, Khatami has pushed for political reform, calling for an easing of strict social codes and for greater freedom of speech. Hard-liners, who are backed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have sought to stall reforms.

Tabarzadi, a father of six, said Khatami's reform program needs a push.

"Reforms within the establishment have reached a deadlock. We need to launch an active but peaceful movement for freedom to achieve our democratic objectives," Tabarzadi said.

Last year, the association's newspaper, Hoviyat'e Kheesh, or One's Identity, was closed down and Tabarzadi was arrested for "issuing an anti-establishment communique." He was released after about five months in jail.

In 1998, he was imprisoned for calling for the democratic election of the country's supreme leader. The supreme leader, who is chosen by the 86-member Experts Assembly, is the country's highest authority, with more clout than the democratically elected president.

In an apparent backlash following their defeat in February parliamentary elections, hard-liners have closed 24 pro-reform publications, and jailed more than 20 reformist writers and political activists.

Hard-liners, who control Iran's judiciary, broadcast network and armed forces, believe that Khatami's reform program is not in line with the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.


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